Commonwealth Games: Young star Silcock holds her own

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TEAM JERSEY’S 2022 Commonwealth Games table tennis players put on a super show in what would turn out to be their final day of action in Birmingham.

Hannah Silcock and Jordan Wykes ultimately had their campaigns ended by international talent, but they put up one heck of a fight in both the mixed doubles and women’s singles tournaments.

Having won both of her group games in the singles draw, 15-year-old Silcock – the Island’s youngest ever competitor at this level, in any sport – made it three wins from three with victory alongside Wykes in the mixed doubles first round yesterday morning.

However, the pair lost 3-0 to Canadians Edward Ly and Sophie Gauthier in the last-32 [11-8, 11-7, 11-8], before Silcock’s solo effort was ended by a 4-2 defeat [11-4, 11-6, 13-15, 9-11, 11-3, 11-4] to England number one Tin-Tin Ho, whose father, a table tennis fanatic, used the sport’s initials to name her.

Silcock came from 2-0 down for 2-2, having saved three set points on her way to taking the third.

The Caesareans met Cypriot pair Marios Yiangou and Foteini Meletie yesterday morning, for the right to face seeded Ly and Gauthier, who were granted a first-round bye.

The tie was a ‘winner-takes-all’ affair – there is no group stage in the mixed doubles draw – and the Island duo got off to the best of starts. They shared points with their opponents for much of the opening game but snuck two clear at 10-8. The first set was secured at the second time of asking.

A double fault from Wykes handed the Cypriots the second but a combination of steely defensive shots and angled smashes kept the Cyprus pair on their toes – and heels – in an entertaining third set that both teams had chances to win.

Jersey, who had been 10-8 up, saved a set point at 11-10 down, before a lucky flick off the net helped secure it.

They fired through the fourth to extend Silcock’s perfect start.

‘We didn’t expect much from doubles, to be honest, but we played well together,’ said Silcock. ‘They didn’t gel as well as we did.

‘One of them was stronger than the other so we just had to keep the ball on from him [Yiangou] and then work hard to play the ball harder against the girl [Meletie].’

Wykes added: ‘We knew they’d be a strong pair, so that’s a really good start. They are strong singles players but we’d never seen them play doubles before, so we had to work them out in the game.

‘It will be the same again later against Canada. We’ll try to find their weaknesses.’

Wykes continued to gee himself up with shouts and fist pumps in their last-32 bout yesterday afternoon, while Silcock went quietly to work alongside him.

They held their own against Canada but were unable to catch the lucky break required to beat pairs of such calibre. The North Americans were consistently accurate and deadly on the attack, with some shots whizzing past the Caesarean pair before the on-strike player had time to react.

There were a healthy handful of impressive rallies across the table and Jersey won their fair share. The early stages of the third set in particular were a showcase of top-class table tennis, with all four players at full stretch all at once.

Silcock’s backhand spin proved effective at times but as soon as the Islanders edged ahead, the Canadians would hit back on the scoreboard. Harder.

A superb curling smash from Wykes saved match point at 10-8 in the third, but Ly ended the tie one point later with a powerful knock of his own.

Silcock stormed into round two of the solo competition with two convincing group-stage victories on Wednesday evening; coming from behind to beat Mauritian Oumehani Hosenally 4-1 [8-11, 11-5, 11-8, 12-10, 11-7] before toppling Ugandan Florence Seera by the same score [11-3, 11-9, 7-11, 11-5, 11-9]. She won Group 12 as a result, although her reward could have been more favourable.

Ho won team bronze and mixed-doubles silver at Gold Coast 2018, having claimed team silver four years earlier in Glasgow. She also appeared at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Their contest was played on one of the NEC’s two show courts, attracting around 1,000 spectators plus thousands more, no doubt, via the BBC iPlayer.

You could forgive the youngster for holding pre-game nerves, although she rarely looked out of place.

After a shaky start Silcock deployed her backhand to great effect and edged some impressive rallies in the third and fourth, which she fully deserved to claim.

Ho had been rocked. Silcock was right at home. She will be back.

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